Updated: Mar 17, 2020
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
We’ve all heard the Serenity Prayer before. Written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, this three-pronged short verse beautifully reminds us of our limitations as well as our power. It addresses trust, letting go, and choosing our response. None of these are easy tasks. But if we can embrace the above words, I believe that our lives will become better, especially in uncertain times like now.
As I began this blog (on Friday), I was sitting in a terminal at the Fort Myers Airport waiting for a flight to Philadelphia. Looking around me, no one appeared frightened at the prospect of being in a crowded airport or getting onto a plane. While most passengers seemed to have his or her own bottle of hand sanitizer – and people in the rest rooms were definitely taking more time washing their hands – the only masks I saw (two) were worn by elderly travelers.
This is clearly “accepting things we cannot change.” Whether it is the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed, the deluge occurring in the stock market, the closings of schools and college campuses, cancellations of March Madness, the closing of restaurants and stores, or the uncertainty of future travel plans, we have absolutely no control over any of these occurrences. We certainly may be inconvenienced, scared, concerned, or even personally impacted, but we cannot do anything about the recent turn of events. This is when we must ask God for help with accepting what is and letting go of what we would rather be.
Perhaps this sounds defeatist, as if we are relinquishing all control in our life. But it’s not – at all. If anything, the Serenity prayer makes things clearer, as it identifies the areas that we cannot affect and highlights those that we can. Pay special attention to the second part which specifically states, “courage to change the things I can…” What exactly does that mean right now?
It reminds us that we are empowered to respond, not react. Instead of allowing fear, social media hysteria, or irrational thoughts to invade our minds, we can choose to make sound decisions and act intentionally, promoting healthy and responsible actions, not knee-jerk reactions. We can wash our hands, carry hand sanitizer, avoid large crowds, and practice social distancing. Go on the CDC's website for the latest recommendations. But most importantly, we can stay home - away for all others - if we are sick.
Certainly, there are exceptions of individuals who much be extremely vigilant – people with compromised immune systems or preexisting conditions, members of our older population, and those who know themselves well enough to realize that for them, total isolation is best for their peace of mind. But for the majority of us, we should not become paralyzed in a state of fear. This is the prayer’s third part comes into play – “wisdom to know the difference.”
As much as we’d like for this all to be over so that we can go about our daily lives, we cannot “fix” this pandemic. But we can follow prescribed guidelines and pay attention – not obsess over – the situation. We have control over our decisions, reactions, and actions.
In addition to keeping our immunity high, it is equally important to maintain our emotional health. When feeling anxious over the news, cancellations, or the unknown future, we can employ strategies to keep us from going down the bottomless rabbit hole. We can utilize tools such as breathwork, meditation, exercise, and walks in nature to elevate our moods.
While we clear our calendars and spend more times in our homes, could this be an opportunity to explore avenues that we rarely have time for? Maybe we’ll look in the game closet and resurrect the Monopoly board. Or perhaps, as I hope to do, we’ll finally tackle the boxes of disorganized photos. And, I suspect on-line shopping will be a big hit the next few weeks. Maybe even a few pasta makers will make their way out of the back of cabinets, as we have time to explore our culinary skills. Or, perhaps we’ll catch up on reading those books that have accumulated on our shelves.
We will get through this situation. Our country is strong, our communities are strong, and our friendships and families are strong... we are strong. Instead of allowing fear to take hold, now is when we can pause, dig deep within, and say, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Trust, allow, let go. And my guess is that when we resurface to normalcy, we may have learned a thing or two. Not only about viruses, but also about the important things in life – what truly matters.
Note - I have altered this blog several times as the CDC's recommendations have changed. Be safe, be wise, but do not allow fear to rule your decisions. When in doubt, breathe and reread the Serenity Prayer.